We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
Pacific Rim is without a doubt my favorite film of the summer. Indeed, I can’t think of a recent big summer movie I’ve loved anywhere near this much. The action, the visuals, and the sheer spectacle on display are second to none. Beyond that, though, I genuinely like the story and characters. While Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro’s screenplay isn’t going to be accused of being the most original thing in the world, the way everything is put together feels so fresh. I’m a big fan of how streamlined and straightforward the story is. Everything about the world is so vivid that it doesn’t need a convoluted, labyrinthine plot to hold up. It works because it delivers heroes doing everything in their power to save the world from monsters (Kaiju) hellbent on destroying it.
About the characters, I do think they manage to hold their own against the larger than life action. Actually, for me it’s because of them that the larger than life action doesn’t grow tiresome the way it does in some other recent films. The human element – especially inside the Jaegers – keeps things grounded in a very effective way. Rinko Kikuchi is terrific as Mako Mori, a woman who wants to be a Jaeger pilot, as is Idris Elba as Marshall Stacker Pentecost. He’s so commanding that even the simple gesture of turning his head and pointing to his ear carries huge weight. More on them in a bit. Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket is perfectly good as one of the main heroes. He’s not going to garner any awards attention for this, but he sells heroic through and through. Another place Beacham and del Toro work wonders is with the character of Chuck Hansen (played by Robert Kazinsky). When the arrogant Jaeger pilot was first introduced I was prepared for him to be a small blight on the film. By the end, though, I was totally invested in the relationship between him and his father Herc (Max Martini).
This is everything I could want from a film and more. I’ve seen it twice so far, and I can’t wait to revisit it over and over again. Now let’s get to the list before a breach opens in the ocean and 2500 tons of awesome bursts through. Here are the TOP 7 reasons I love Pacific Rim.
(WARNING: There are a few specific lines and action beats mentioned in the final two entries that those wary of spoilers may want to avoid.)
7. Charlie Day as Newton Geiszler
Reason: There’s no way around this: For someone who has been a fan of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” for years, seeing Charlie Day play a major role in a giant monsters vs. mechs movie is the coolest. (Equally cool is knowing Guillermo del Toro is a huge “Sunny” fan and cast Day because of the episode “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats.”) Luckily it goes beyond that, and Day actually gives a terrific performance. His tattooed scientist is one of my favorite characters of the year so far. The script allows him to be funny – a bemused “What?!” in the background of a shot kills, as does nearly everything he gets to do alongside Ron Perlman’s terrific Hannibal Chau – but he completely nails genuine terror opposite some effects in a way I wasn’t sure he would (you can see some of this in the clip linked above). The performance is elevated even further since Day gets to spend a good deal of time alongside the wonderful Burn Gorman. The odd couple dynamic between Newt and (don’t call him Hermann) Gottlieb is one of the many highlights of the film.
6. Ramin Djawadi’s Original Score
Reason: The score is often one of my favorite components of a film. Further, film scores are almost exclusively what I listen to while writing or reading. Despite that, there are very few recent scores I find myself humming, and that’s partially because less and less films nail a great, memorable theme. So when I say I’ve been humming and whistling Ramin Djawadi’s Pacific Rim theme non-stop since seeing the film, it really means something. I’ve liked other scores to this summer’s offerings – particularly Brian Tyler’s for Iron Man 3 and Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score that is equal parts emotional and bombastic – but Dwajadi’s is a cut above (he gets an assist from Tom Morello, whose guitar adds a big kick to a few different moments, particularly our introduction to the Jaeger Gipsy Danger). Every character seems to get a solid cue, but nothing touches the ominous horns that accompany the Kaijus or the spectacular, epic theme that plays over the Jaegers’ heroics. Speaking of which…
Reason: I’m not one to buy film toys or collectibles, but part of me really wants to get my hands on a Gipsy Danger figurine. And one of Striker Eureka. And a Cherno Alpha. And, yes, Crimson Typhoon. Cherno Alpha or Crimson Typhoon could have carried a film by themselves – seriously, I would spend two hours with the awesome looking Russian pilots – and the brief time we spend with them definitely left me wanting more, in the best way. Between their various looks, their sound design, and their weight, it’s hard to say what I love most about the Jaegers. Every time a Jaeger appears on screen it feels like an event, both thanks to the way it is shot and the way Djawadi’s score is used. I also love the explanation for why two pilots are a necessity, as well as the drift and neural handshake – the method in which the two pilots synch up. Gipsy Danger is not a character per se – more an extension of its pilots – but I was cheering and caring for it more than, say, any of the actual sentient robots in Transformers. Characters or not, the Jaegers are certainly one of my favorite creations of 2013.
4. The Tone
Reason: One of my favorite things about Pacific Rim is the tone. It’s so entertaining, so optimistic, and best of all it’s not afraid to be silly at times. In a world where dark and brooding tends to be the popular route – don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of many of these kinds of films – it’s so refreshing to have something that is just so fun and exhilarating. Of course it’s not without some serious moments. A few emotional beats – one relationship in particular that I’ll get to in a moment – work like gangbusters, but overall it’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies in ages. An enormous smile was plastered on my face from the moment the film started through the fun mid-credits scene. I adore the character names – how can you go wrong with Stacker Pentecost, Newt Geiszler, Raleigh Becket, Mako Mori, Herc Hansen, Tendo Choi, and Hannibal Chau? – and a lot of the dialogue had me and others smiling and laughing with glee. Many of these lines probably wouldn’t work without the right actor delivering them. When put in the hands of Idris Elba, though, they soar.
3. Design and Detail of the World
Reason: Back when Man of Steel came out, a friend and I agreed that we could have spent an entire film exploring the world of Krypton. The opening moments with Jor-El, Lara, Zod, and the rest truly transported me to a different world in a way that rarely happens. Even though the action in Pacific Rim takes place on Earth, it still transported me. Everything in the world Beacham, del Toro, and the incredibly talented craft departments created is so rich and detailed. Within the first ten or fifteen minutes I was already blown away by the minute details. The scuffs and scrapes on Raleigh and his brother/original co-pilot Yancy’s suits. A decrepit Anti-Kaiju Wall sign with graffiti saying it will be completed “Never.” These little details make me believe that this world has existed for years rather than first coming into existence when the cameras rolled. The Hong Kong Shatterdome, where the last remaining Jaegers are kept, is a huge space that I wanted to explore for hours. Same goes for the Bone Slums. Perlman’s Hannibal Chau points out a religious sect whose temple is a Kaiju skull. That’s all we hear about them, but it’s just one more thing that makes this world so believable. With talented actors occasionally delivering well-integrated expository dialogue, it doesn’t stick out and annoy. Rather, it makes it even easier to buy into this breathtaking world.
2. Mako Chases the RABIT (Mako and Stacker)
Reason: The two scenes showing Mako’s memory when she chases the RABIT (random access brain impulse triggers) while drifting combine to be one of my favorite sequences of the year. It’s a great example of showing rather than telling, and the way it’s put together plays beautifully. Much of this is thanks to the heartbreaking performance by young Mana Ashida. Without saying a word she conveys all the anguish and despair of her terrible circumstances. Once the Kaiju chasing her is defeated and she walks out into the street, the hero shot of the Jager Coyote Tango with the sun shining behind made me well up. And Stacker Pentecost climbing out and smiling down on young Mako is one of the lasting images of the film. While we’re at it, here’s where I’m going to throw in how much I love the relationship between Idris Elba’s Stacker and Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori. It stems from this flashback, so it seems fair. Towards the end, before Stacker’s fist pump worthy “Canceling the Apocalypse” speech, the two of them share a terrific scene that is played perfectly by the two actors. A little later, “You can always find me in the Drift” is a line that might land with a thud in other hands. Thanks to the power of the relationship and the actors, it works. Finally, Miss Mori’s “Sensei, aishite imasu” in unsubtitled Japanese couldn’t be more perfect.
1. The Battle of Hong Kong
Reason: The battle of Hong Kong is my favorite action sequence in recent memory. It’s thrilling, beautiful, and even offers a couple excellent comedic beats. It gets immediate points for showing a bit of Cherno Alpha and Crimson Typhoon in battle. I would have loved more, but what we did get was great. The sequence really takes off once Gipsy Danger makes its heroic entrance. Every beat of this sequence works thanks to the terrific composition and pacing by del Toro and his team. We get to see a giant mech box a Kaiju’s ears in with storage containers and that’s still pretty far down the list of best moments of the battle! The two comedic moments – “No pulse” and Newton’s cradle – had me laughing, and the iconic moments with the cargo ship (accompanied by a terrific use of the theme) and Gipsy Danger’s sword had me on the edge of my seat with a massive smile on my face. It’s in the midst of this battle that we get a woman saying “The Kaiju wants the little dude” about Charlie Day, so when I say it has everything, I mean it. I plan to experience Pacific Rim time and time again, and this sequence is one I expect to wear out on the eventual Blu-ray. Thrilling action, impeccable CGI, and colored with beautiful blacks and neon, this is a sequence – and film as a whole – that I won’t soon forget.
(Oh, one more thing. I’m so happy they didn’t kiss.)